The milk of human kindness

This morning a friend of ours came over to fix a light switch for us. In preparation for his arrival, I made a fresh pot of coffee (his favorite beverage), had milk, and sugar for him to mix in his morning coffee. He said, after I finish the switch. He went to the bedroom, left to get a new switch, returned, and made the repairs. When I asked him how much we owed him, he said nothing. We paid him for the part, but he would accept nothing for his time, travel, gas, or labor. I felt so blessed and humbled. He said it was nothing, but having light on the side of the bed so Zoë could read at night was a real blessing to us.

As I have been sitting here thinking about this experience this morning, I found myself wondering if this was how Dr Howard Kelly had felt when he was a young boy. 

I had read a story about him a few years back and periodically it show up in my inbox again. According to, the incident told in this story is true, although some of the details have been changed to evoke more emotion. For me, it was the message of the story, which stayed with my spirit, and the difference a glass of milk can make to a person. So here is the story.

One day, a poor boy who was selling goods from door to door to pay his way through school, found he had only one thin dime left, and he was hungry.

He decided he would ask for a meal at the next house. However, he lost his nerve when a lovely young woman opened the door. Instead of a meal, he asked for a drink of water.

She thought he looked hungry and so she brought him a large glass of milk.

He drank it slowly, and then asked, 'How much do I owe you?'

'You don't owe me anything,' she replied. 'Mother has taught us never to accept pay for a kindness.'

He said, 'Then I thank you from my heart.'

As Howard Kelly left that house, he not only felt stronger physically, but his faith in God and man was strengthened also. He had been ready to give up and quit.

Years later, that young woman became critically ill. The local doctors were baffled. They finally sent her to the big city, where they called in specialists to study her rare disease.

Dr. Howard Kelly was called in for the consultation. When he heard the name of the town she came from, he went down the hall of the hospital to her room. Dressed in his doctor's gown, he went in to see her. He recognized her at once. He went back to the consultation room determined to do his best to save her life. From that day, he gave special attention to the case.

After a long struggle, the battle was won. Dr. Kelly requested from the business office to pass the final billing to him for approval. He looked at it, then wrote something on the edge, and the bill was sent to her room.

She feared to open it, for she was sure it would take the rest of her life to pay for it all. Finally, she looked, and something caught her attention on the side of the bill.

She read these words:

'PAID IN FULL WITH ONE GLASS OF MILK.... (Signed) Dr. Howard Kelly.'

Tears of joy flooded her eyes as her happy heart prayed: 'Thank You, God, that your love is shed abroad through human hearts and hands.’ ~Author Unknown~

There have been so many times in my life, others have given me that “glass of milk” that I needed at the time, like this morning with my friend Ed, or the times that my neighbors had that cup of sugar, cloves of garlic, or bottle of vanilla. I then thought about how I have been able to pay the bill for others in my life and what a blessing it was for me. Sometimes we think that what we offer is small and simple, but it may mean so much more then we know. To us, it might just be a glass of milk or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, but to someone else it might be the answer to their prayers and the spiritual food they need to enable them to continue in their spiritual journey. Perhaps that is why I am intentional about ensuring all who come to our home are offered food and drink.